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In 2002, Riverkeeper discovered that Empire Transit Mix, a concrete company, was illegally discharging its liquid cement wastewater into Newtown Creek. The company was diverting wastewater from its site into a pipe which emptied into the creek. Extensive, white plumes could be seen in the creek on a daily basis. These plumes were highly toxic and caustic with a pH of more than 12. Riverkeeper reported the discharge to the state DEC, the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, and the FBI. The EPA had been investigating the site for a year, succeeding in getting the company to seal up other discharge locations. Riverkeeper’s report of the new pipe raised the stakes in the EPA’s case. In November 2003, Riverkeeper and CID special agents conducted a joint investigation of the site.
Cement-laden wastewater dicharges illegally from a secret pipe.
Then, in May 2005, Riverkeeper learned that the US Attorney’s office from the Eastern District of New York accepted a guilty plea from Empire Transit for criminal misdemeanor violations of the federal 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act. The Act prohibit the dumping of debris and pollutants into navigable waters. The US Attorney also exacted a $300,000 penalty, half of which was given to Riverkeeper under the Act’s bounty provisions.
This is the first time in more than 25 years that a US Attorney prosecuted a tip from Riverkeeper and turned a bounty back to the organization. Before the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, the Rivers and Harbors Act was the only federal law that prohibited this kind of dumping. Riverkeeper’s predecessor, the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, used this law back in the 1960s to bring polluters to justice while simultaneously funding its operations.
While the details have not yet been worked out, Riverkeeper will turn this money directly around for Newtown Creek and its communities, increasing our pollution enforcement, outreach and education, and restoration efforts.